Reprinted by permission of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel (BYFI).
Before my daughters were born, I remember being in synagogue with my father on Rosh Hashanah. The rabbi was talking about how intermarriage will be the demise of the Jewish religion. I could swear he was looking straight at me, and I felt like I was wearing a scarlet letter.
|Vince, Tina, Robyn and Ava Charne.
Tina and Robyn--my children--are adults now. Their father, Vince, is Italian. My children are a product of intermarriage. As the rabbi spoke, I remember thinking that if and when I had children, I would go out of my way to make sure they were Jewish, and that I would not singlehandedly destroy the Jewish people.
Tina went to nursery school at our temple. One Shabbat, she came home and said that she had flowers for our Shabbat table. I asked her where our Shabbat table was, and she told me she thought it was downstairs in the basement. It amazed me that at her young age, she was OK with whatever traditions we did or did not have.
When Robyn was 4, I began to teach kindergarten at our Sunday School. Tina and Robyn would come with me without fail every Sunday morning. They continued to accompany and "assist" me until Robyn graduated from high school. I never imagined that they would go to a Hebrew day school, yet Tina began kindergarten and Robyn followed, and eight years later they graduated.
We became more and more involved in Judaism, and as the years went by, Vince asked me if I made up Jewish holidays--each year there seemed to be more that we were observing. Tina and Robyn got involved in Israeli dancing, danced with their Israeli dance troupe through high school, and even taught Israeli dancing when they got older. They came with me to Israel for many of the summers when I was there with the Bronfman Fellows. The winter retreats and reunions were so meaningful to them. Today, both of my daughters are very active Jews. Both took part in Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, after college. Tina is a special education teacher in Maryland, and Robyn just got a job at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, Mass., as a social justice youth Coordinator.
I think my experience reflects both something of the price of living in a community and its benefits. The rabbi's harsh words that Rosh Hashanah showed to what extent Jews believed they must be exclusive to survive. The community excluded people like Vince, who aren't part of it, and rejected the life choice I made when I married him. And yet at the same time, our community offered my children so much, and made them the Jewish people they are now. I am very proud of Tina and Robyn, and very grateful for the support of the Jewish community in which they grew up--their synagogue, their day school and BYFI.